S.B.F.’s Judge & Baldwin’s Secret Weapon

alec baldwin
There’s a lot of skepticism in the legal community about whether D.A. Mary Carmack-Altwies can secure a conviction against actor Alec Baldwin, who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after the on-set death of a beloved cinematographer. Photo: MEGA/GC Images
Eriq Gardner
January 23, 2023

How the hell did Sam Bankman-Fried, who claims he has “close to nothing” in the bank, make $250 million bail? This week, citing public interest in the criminal case against the FTX founder, several media outlets pushed U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan to unseal the names of S.B.F.’s two mysterious backers, who, along with his parents, stepped up to co-sign his bond papers. But the judge rejected their bid on Friday, meaning we may never know which people or entities are responsible for guaranteeing S.B.F.’s cushy home confinement in Palo Alto.

I wasn’t that surprised, given Kaplan’s history. While the 78-year-old Clinton appointee is supposedly semi-retired, you’d hardly know it by looking at his busy docket. Indeed, Kaplan is not only overseeing the fraud case against Bankman-Fried; he’s also got his hands full with two lawsuits brought by writer E. Jean Carroll against Donald Trump over an alleged sexual assault, a Charles Harder-led libel suit over a New York Times story co-authored by Andrew Ross Sorkin, and a few copyright termination cases that will determine whether Disney maintains full control of its Avengers characters. In fact, I count at least 120 matters that were assigned (randomly or otherwise) to Kaplan just last year

More intriguingly, Kaplan has made a habit of antagonizing the press with narrow interpretations of what the First Amendment actually protects. Last year, for instance, I reported how Kaplan forced entertainment journalist Adam Vary to turn over his communications and sit for a deposition in a civil suit against actor Kevin Spacey. Vary pointed to both the First Amendment as well as New York’s shield law in his bid to protect a source, but Kaplan turned him down, arguing, in effect, that Vary wasn’t a real journalist. It was a curious ruling, but it wasn’t the first time Kaplan raised bias as a reason to not extend legal privileges to the media. Back in 2010, he ordered a documentarian to comply with a subpoena and give Chevron more than 600 hours of raw footage taken for a documentary on oil pollution in Ecuador. In that same case, he also authorized wide-ranging discovery by taking a lot of anonymous and non-American speech outside First Amendment safeguards.